Embracing Inclusivity in the Workplace This Holiday Season

HR & Safety

The following article first appeared on Robinson+Cole’s Manufacturing Law Blog. It is reposted here with permission.

The end of the year is a great time for employers to express gratitude for employees and their hard work during the year through holiday parties and events.

While these gatherings can increase morale, camaraderie, and goodwill in the workplace, they can have the opposite effect if they are not inclusive of all employees and planned intentionally for that purpose.

Fortunately, by intentionally planning, employers can increase the likelihood that these gatherings will be well-received by employees and strengthen workplace bonds.

Think of the Term ‘Inclusive’ More Inclusively

One of the best ways to ensure that the holiday party, holiday gift, or office culture in general is as inclusive as possible is to broaden how you think of the term “inclusive.”

Specifically, holiday parties should be designed to meaningfully include all employees regardless of their family status, life circumstances, abilities, race and ethnicity, age, and other characteristics.

For example, you should ensure that the holiday gatherings:

  • Are accessible to all employees regardless of physical abilities (e.g., avoiding gatherings centered around physical skills/abilities such as a 5k walk/run).
  • Include food options that accommodate allergies, preferences, intolerances, life and religious choices, or provide a venue where employees can comfortably request an accommodation.
  • Are comfortable for employees who do and do not consume alcohol. For example, although craft beer or an expensive bottle of champagne may be a nice employee gift, many people do not drink for various reasons, and such a gift may even be triggering for some employees. Therefore, employers should consider planning the gathering so that it is not centered around alcohol and includes festive food, mocktails, and plenty of cheer for all employees.
  • Celebrate the season and the end of the year without highlighting any particular religion or religion in general, either overtly or subtly, or celebrates religion inclusively. Even the subtle references or omissions as they relate to religion in the workplace can be interpreted in a manner that leaves employees feeling excluded and othered. Planning in this regard should include consideration of decorations, music, gifting activities, and even the event date.
  • Limit the stress and anxiety that employees may feel by engaging in such a gathering. For example, consider making attendance voluntary (not mandatory). Also, employers should consider organizing the format and physical space in a manner that is comfortable for employees who prefer loud and lively large group gatherings and those who appreciate a quieter environment, employees who may know many other employees, and those who may have just started, among other preferences and circumstances.
  • Will be enjoyed by all employees, not a subset of employees.


Carefully considering these aspects of the holiday party during the planning stage will demonstrate to employees that the employer honors and respects their different backgrounds and life experiences.

Employers may understandably wonder how they can realistically plan an inclusive event that will be well-received by all employees.

One of the best ways to achieve this goal is by involving employees and human resources in this process, as well as any leaders and employees who are engaged in or lead the company’s diversity and inclusion efforts.

Providing employees with the opportunity to be heard and acknowledged is the best way to ensure that the holiday festivities are as inclusive and celebratory as possible.

For additional insights regarding company holiday parties, please see our article here.

About the authors: Abby Warren is a partner at Robinson+Cole and a member of the firm’s Labor, Employment, Benefits + Immigration Group. Madison Picard is an associate and a member of the firm’s Labor, Employment, Benefits + Immigration Group.


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